How listening to birds can rehabilitate a child’s ability to pay attention

How listening to birds can rehabilitate a child’s ability to pay attention

“Birds help my ears learn how to listen.”

How listening to birds can rehabilitate a child’s ability to pay attention.

“Would you like to hear my story?” My little friend asks. I nod and she begins, reading in a tone that is more oracle than five year old:

“Once upon a time, there are birds.”

My mouth falls open.

She continues,

“Once upon a time, there are trees.”

I choke back tears.

“Once upon a time there are flowers.”

My eyes meet with her mothers’ and I study the electricity in this child’s smile. There is an aliveness in her. She beams at me while I think about other children I know and work with…Read more at audubon.org

“The sky is so clear I can almost see god.”

“The sky is so clear I can almost see god.”

It’s been just two weeks since India went on full lockdown and reports tell us people there are saying things like,

“The sky is so clear I can almost see God.”

Older people in populous cities around the globe are saying they haven’t seen the blue sky in decades, which means there is an entire generation of young people, not just in India, but in cities around the world who before this moment, haven’t known the sky as blue.

When I was a young girl I frequently looked to the sky for answers, laying on my back to escape a growing pain in my challenged world. Under the tendril arms of a Weeping Willow tree, in one of the many backyards we moved to, I would often wonder out loud, speaking directly to the clouds floating by,

“Can I see god? Can god see me?”

Would I have wondered that if I hadn’t been drawn into the sky’s calling to explore its timelessness and beauty? Sometimes I was drawn to stare at the sky for the pure beauty it poured into every little cell in my body. Sometimes it was to escape the growing pain behind my ribs, right above my heart.

It was from this little backyard, that I first heard my father singing a song that made me, my brothers and my mother all laugh.The song was written by a man named John Prine who’s music became a balm for that pain in my little heart.

“Sing the one where they blow up their TV and move to the country!” I would shout at my Dad when he picked up his guitar. When our extended family got together, my brothers, and my cousins would shout, “Sing please don’t bury me!” in an effort to help us make sense of the human condition we were learning to both lean into and avoid.

Mr. Prine sang of love, death, farts, clowns, dreams, heaven, hell and all the longings a young or old heart could hold. His songs helped me, my brothers, and cousins make sense of our mother’s tears, our grandmother’s strength and our father’s rage; why alcohol and marijuana had become staples in most of our homes.

At family gatherings, among the awe of stars and annoyance of mosquitos, my uncles and aunts shook their heads laughing as they sang his songs, uniting a common sadness while threading hope into us kids. Like the clouds in the sky, his songs eased the sharp edges of lives wrought with hunger, depression, abuse, and for my nuclear family, moments of homelessness. Laughing came more easily when Mr. Prine’s songs erupted into a chorus of voices around the fire. His weaving of heaviness and lightness gave us permission to choose and accept joy, the way we accepted our parents’ pain. Smacking mosquitoes in the humid Ontario summer nights became worth the cost of welts the size of quarters, just to feel that kind of joy and connection with each other, and the stars.

The weeping willow, the blue sky, the night stars, and John Prine, are entwined with the memory of my mother sitting fully clothed, her yellow bell bottom jeans soaking wet with my brother held between her legs in the bathtub as a steam of water filled the air. I remember standing in the steamy bathroom, watching my brother’s chest heave and gasp as his asthmatic lungs began to breathe, the color from his lips turn from blue to pink again. John’s lyrics, “sitting in the bathtub counting my toes when the radiator broke, water all froze, got stuck in the ice without any clothes, naked as the eyes of a clown,” popped into my head and somehow, made it all seem OK. It marks the first time that music eased a moment like that, and it laid down a track in my brain that showed music was medicine the same way the willow, the blue sky and the stars could be.

I read today that the Himalayas can be seen for the first time in decades from miles away, showing the sky, the moon, the stars and the possibility that exists right before young wondering eyes. I wonder if Mr. Prine was able to see out a window from his hospital bed and see the stars shine bright? What might he have written about this moment?

Mr. Prine once said in an interview about writing songs that, “Sometimes, the best ones come together at the exact same time, and it takes about as long to write it as it does to sing it. They come along like a dream or something, and you just got to hurry up and respond to it, because if you mess around, the song is liable to pass you by.”

What might we do not to let this moment pass us by?

We could say it is a moment of introduction between one generation and the sky, between the generation who may not have noticed how blue, or bright or inspiring it is. They were born into a world where normal is a sky occluded by pollution, time is invaded by busyness and wonder is seen as idleness.

What if we could stop for a moment and recognize that this generation may for the first time be seeing the sky as blue, taking their first clear breath, hearing the first birdsong, and we are rediscovering the medicine of sky, music, breath?

What if we just hurried up and wrote a new song for this moment? One that would live into the future, as all Mr. Prine’s will? What if we didn’t wait for the next pandemic? What if, instead of Earth day, we had Earth month? A once a year Global Holiday Month to put it all on pause and remember those like Mr. Prine, the one’s we’ve lost, and to show the young ones a blue sky, the night stars, the bird song? What if we didn’t mess around and let this moment pass us by?

Imagine if every year, there was one month that both the breath of people and nature could just pause, and exhale and remember together what is possible? Maybe the losses wouldn’t be so huge? And wouldn’t that be a real step towards equity? If we can think it, we can be it.

Kathleen Lockyer is an occupational therapist, writer, mother, and passionate leader in the movement to help children and families rediscover our inter-dependence between nature and child development. You can contact her at [email protected]

When Rachel Carson said this…

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In 1962 a woman named Rachel Carson wrote a book called Silent Spring.

It was an alarm call for taking a hard look at the serious consequences that were happening from the rampant and common practice of spraying toxic chemicals. It may seem obvious now that killing the plants and pests might also kill the birds, animals, and ourselves. But back then, it wasn’t obvious.

Rachel Carson sounded an alarm that took nearly 60 years for many people to hear.

I recently re-read Silent Spring and stopped and cried when I read this line:

“How will we tell the children that the birds are disappearing?”

My tears were for a different reason than what worried Ms. Carson.

Rewind to my life ten and a half years prior. I stood in my backyard and said out loud:

“I can do anything for five years.”

My kids were 9 and 12 and I chose to take a job I didn’t like. Our family had suffered the death of my intimate partner and I needed to stabilize us. Seven years after I took the job I was still there, a whole two years past its expiration date.

When the girls are older. When things get easier. When life slows down.

I heard myself saying all these things. Life kept going.

Then one day, I went to the job, ‘occupational therapist at a public school.’

I did what I always did\; took the children on my caseload outside for therapy. On this day I asked each of the 7 children who I worked with (individually) the same questions:

“Point to the nearest bird you see,” and each child did the same thing. They stopped, looked and then said:

“There are no birds.”

I then asked: “Point to the nearest bird you hear.” they closed their eyes and listened and then said

“There are no birds.”

Then I asked, as each one stood in the center of dozens of Dandelions: “Point to the nearest Dandelion.”

They said: “What’s a Dandelion?”

When I got home that day, I realized my kids kept getting older. Life wasn’t slowing down.

That is the day I vowed to sound an alarm for the children and the birds, and for my future grandchildren.

When I read Ms. Carson’s question I cried because today, her worry is almost a mute point.

Many children do not see the birds. Many do not hear the birds.

“Birds don’t matter,” a young child recently told me.

Children don’t pick Dandelion heads, or lay in the grass daydreaming into clouds.

Aaaaannnnnd…

Science tells us that children are losing their senses. This is not a coincidence.

One in five children is diagnosed with a developmental disorder.

As we lose species, habitat and birds, the children are losing their senses. One is deeply tied to the other. The senses are the pathway to healthy development. The senses are our pathway to connecting with nature. Tug on one end, and the other unravels.

Children are unravelling, but, it is not too late. Science reminds us that children are wired to connect and those ancient wirings are still running their neurological systems! They are designed for excellence.

Aaaannnnd, they are resilient.

With so many kids struggling, and almost every parent I talk with challenged by some difficult or curious behavior their child is expressing, we need nature more than ever. The thing is, behavior is a symptom of an underlying skill deficit. These deficits are often unseen developmental needs and nature knows how to help.

CLICK HERE TO Join one of our webinars to learn more!

Mitigating the stress of environmental threats.

Mitigating the stress of environmental threats.

Kathleen Lockyer believes that to change the world we need to break out of our own boxes, bridge the best of the past with the best of the present, and that a better future is within our reach. She has been an occupational therapist for over 25 years and has raised two fiercely amazing daughters who are now the kind of young women that she loves to hike, camp, snowboard, road-trip and just grab lunch or dinner with! She has a very funny dog named “Charlie Murphy” and many nicknames -among them are “Mama K” and “Auntie K.”

Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones. Thich Nhat Hanh

Running towards the chicken coop I expected to see a fox. What I saw instead was a huge tawny colored cat much larger than my 70 pound dog. It leapt with a ferocity as intense as the sound it made slamming into the wood structure of the coop. From 25 feet away I could see the muscle definition in the shoulders of the Mountain Lion as it crouched and jumped. The thud it made when it landed back on the ground still echoes in my ears. My entire body slammed itself into a freeze frame and yet I was surprised that awe and curiosity were stronger than fear. The adrenaline in my limbs held me in alertness and a thought occurred to me: True fear leaves no time to feel afraid.

Every hair on my skin was alert, my eyes were clear and sharp as they scanned the coop that was partially hidden by bushes to shade our chickens from the sun. Did it get out? My ears felt pointed like when deer listen. What are the birds saying (and not saying)? Is the lion still in the coop? Where is it?

I have come face to face with true fear a number of times over the years, twice with a mountain lion, once with a bear, and twice with a rattlesnake. I call it true fear because my body reacts as though it is in mortal danger, which it is. This kind of fear has been a true gift in that I can now identify the fearful “what if” thinking that causes me anxiety and the true fear of “get safe now.” The get safe now kind of fear passes when the threat is over, the “What if” keeps me up all night and makes me stink with sweat. Both kinds of fear cause stress on the body. The human system was designed to deal with threats by putting the body into a stress state so it can move quickly, avoid the threat and return to a calm state or baseline for the majority of time.

The challenge in our modern times is that there are so many “what if’s” that most people live in a constant state of low grade anxiety and therefore constant stress. Our systems are not designed for this kind of constant “possible” threat scenario that never quite returns to a peaceful baseline. The Harvard Center for the Developing Child talks about different types of stress and names them as positive (healthy) which is like what happened to me with the mountain lion, and toxic which can result from “what if.”

There is a lot I am not telling you about my experiences with these animals, or how I integrated the interactions to help me be more calm, or what I have done to mitigate stress in my life and with the children I work with. What I can say is that my years of practicing active listening –to birds and animals, scanning the ground and the bushes with my eyes and engaging with the environment I live in all supported the integration of these mortal threats in a way that allows me to be more calm than I was before them.

It may sound counter intuitive but it actually makes great sense when one understands the inner workings of our neurology, brain patterning and our developmental processes.

Are you interested in learning more about how to up level your environmental awareness and decrease stress?

In my trainings I show how new scientific research supports the core routines of nature connection and I teach practices that mitigate toxic stress for yourself and for the children you love or work with.

 

LEARN MORE BY CLICKING HERE

 

What About The Teenagers?

What About The Teenagers?


“A weed is a plant whose virtue is yet to be discovered.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Jenny joined our nature immersion program after her mother chose to take her out of school at the end of 6th grade. Worried about Jenny’s mental health, her mother felt that the current ‘system’ seemed to contribute to the many challenges young girls, and some of Jenny’s friends in the local, relatively wealthy district seemed to suffer from: bulimia, anorexia, early sexual activity, chronic fatigue, alcohol, drugs, etc. Jenny had recently suffered a traumatic event and her mother understood the impact this event could have on an already struggling pre-teen afloat in the sea of teen challenges.  

When I first met Jenny, she was a highly intelligent yet quiet and anxious anxious young woman. The light in her eyes was barely a distant flicker and, “I’m sorry” was part of almost everything she said.  Hesitation was saddled to most things she did. When asked about the “incident” she shrugged and said: “haha, yea it was pretty crazy,” and then changed the subject.

A couple of months after first meeting her, a group of kids lazed in the green of May grasses and I took the opportunity address the concept of resiliency. Instead of lecturing, I wove a fantastical story of the common Dandelion as inspired by two famous herbalists, Rosemary Gladstar and Susun Weed. The story had drama, suspense and humor, and brought life to the powerful resiliency of the Dandelion.  I watched as Jenny listened intently, lying on her stomach in the grass with her head resting on her forearms. Every now and then she would look up to catch my animated antics and her eyes would widen, a half smile catching her lips.

When I saw Jenny next, her sullen demeanor had changed to a now beaming smile lighting up everything around her, her hair flowing in the wind as she ran down the hill to greet me.  I could see she was holding something in her hands. As she came closer, I saw a haphazard mess of dirt and greens falling out of a ceramic cereal bowl and one, bright, wilting, yellow flower in the center.  Her mother trailed a few feet behind with a look that was both flustered and full. Jenny pushed the bowl in my direction and said:

“I found  this in my yard and wanted to dig it up for you because you love Dandelions so much!”

 From behind, her mother shrugged and exhaled as she said:

“The reason we were late.”

I looked at Jenny, alive – the flickering light was now a full flame.

“It just showed up in my front yard!”

Her voice said, louder than I remember it.

It was as if the resilience of the little yellow flower, the one that can withstand feet stomping it, cars and bikes driving on it, toxic chemicals sprayed on it, and even floods, had rooted its lessons deeply into Jenny’s waning heart and revived the light in her eyes.  From that day forward it was clear she was changed – lighter, easier to laugh, and leaving the hesitation in her intelligent curiosity behind her.

Our Nature Sense is so supportive of our mental health needs that I never had to have a direct conversation with Jenny about her heart, her anxiety, or her insecurity. All I did was walk Jenny into the wisdom of nature and trust that she would find her own answers among the weeds.

Many teenagers  today seem to be in a soul deficit, with a longing they can’t identify. They have been raised with an overabundance of bad news and a lack of a positive future vision.  It’s as if they learn about death before they get a chance to live.

“Among adolescents and young adults, suicide is responsible for more deaths than the combination of cancer, heart disease, congenital anomalies, respiratory disease, influenza, pneumonia, stroke, meningitis, septicemia, HIV, diabetes, anemia, and kidney and liver disease”

(John Campo, MD)

        It is a fact that we don’t pay attention to boring things.  Humans can muster the energy to focus for a lecture or a task that their higher brain overrides as boring, but it is an inefficient task at best, and likely, details are soon forgotten. Meaning is lost. Think of a lecture that you were required (not inspired) to sit for. What do you remember about it? How many details of the content? Likely you are thinking about how the room looked, smelled or what you were wearing. Maybe if there was a particular topic, you remember one specific fact. Other than that, the entire length of time you were charged with sitting, is a mystery to your memory. How is it that our society has managed to take the most alive, impassioned and curious members of it and BORE  THEM TO DEATH!??? What would happen if instead, we allowed each “Jenny” to have one day a week to experience the aliveness of the natural world? If instead of lecturing them, we showed them what life could feel and look like? What if we trusted that with a little bit of guided nature connection, they could find their own answers?

        The answers to teenagers lacking motivation and vision are laid out before us the way a meadow offers a superbloom of spring flowers after a drought. Even after years of little to no rain, one good soaking, followed by a little sun, and a teenager will bloom- because that is what they are designed to do.

They are designed to watch, listen, touch, smell, taste, balance, move, feel- these are the gifts nature has put in our growth bundle of nerves and cells in an effort to design an intelligence that supports our best self and is at one with all other species on this earth.  When this is reintroduced to a starving system, good things happen.

Let’s make good things available to all teenagers.